High-risk pregnancies account for less than 10 percent of the total, but chances are you know someone who has experienced a high-risk pregnancy. You may even be in this situation yourself. While the label "high-risk" sounds scary, it doesn't mean something bad is guaranteed to happen to you or your baby. It does mean you'll have to see your doctor more frequently and take other precautions to minimize risk though. Knowing the signs that you're likely to have a high-risk pregnancy and what that means can help you with your own experience or help you support a friend or family member.
According to Michael Haydon, Medical Director of Obstetrics, Perinatology & Maternal Fetal Medicine at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in California, "Pregnancies can be considered high-risk for a variety of reasons." He tells Romper over email that age is a common reason for the high-risk label. Pregnant women older than 35 may see "increased risk of Down syndrome" and "many medical conditions arise in women in their late 30s including diabetes, high blood pressure, and thyroid disease." Beyond the age of the mother, a pregnancy could be labeled high-risk due to "multiple gestations such as twins and triplets" and "babies identified by ultrasound with complications (i.e., spina bifida, cleft lip or cardiac defects)."
Michael Nageotte, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital in California and a nationally recognized perinatologist specializing in high-risk pregnancies, tells Romper over email that "While 'high risk' is a bit of a nebulous term and has no specific definition, generally it applies to pregnancies with certain maternal, fetal, or past history issues." Nageotte mentions the same factors as Hayden including maternal age and medical conditions, multiple gestations, and fetal issues. He also emphasizes a mother's medical and pregnancy history as the most important indicator for high-risk pregnancies. Now that you know what a high-risk pregnancy is, here are five common signs that make it more likely you'll have one.
This is one of the most common reasons for a high-risk pregnancy, says Haydon. Examples of past pregnancy complications include "preterm labor, bleeding, or a complicated delivery."
"The most common reasons for a pregnancy to be considered high-risk are preexisting diabetes and high blood pressure. Mothers with high blood pressure or diabetes require more frequent visits and additional surveillance techniques to be sure their babies are growing well," Haydon explains. WebMD also mentioned infections such as HIV, hepatitis C, cytomegalovirus (CMV), chickenpox, rubella, toxoplasmosis, and syphilis.
According to Nageotte, "if the pregnancy is the result of infertility treatments," it's more likely to be high-risk.
Nageotte says your family history of genetic diseases and pregnancy outcomes can increase your chances of having a high-risk pregnancy as well.
WebMd mentions these lifestyle choices as a potential sign of high-risk pregnancy. Luckily, this is the one warning sign you can do something about, unlike your medical history.
If your pregnancy has been identified as high-risk or you think you're likely to have a high-risk pregnancy, here's what you can do to get through it and have the best possible outcome. Haydon's advice is that "Most women will do fine with close follow up with their OB-GYN. In more complicated cases, a high risk OB-GYN (perinatologist) can be consulted. In some cases the high risk OB-GYN may deliver the baby. In addition to the OB-GYN and perinatologist, there are perinatal nurses, genetic counselors, social workers, and psychologists specifically trained to take care of high-risk pregnancies. Fortunately, with a good team of experienced professionals, the pregnancies do very well. Importantly, if someone has questions about whether they are high-risk, they can consult with a high-risk OB-GYN prior to pregnancy. This will help to determine appropriate steps to in preparing for a healthy pregnancy."
Nageotte says, "The most important way to cope with a high-risk pregnancy is to have a correct appreciation and understanding of the specific risk issue(s), receive early and appropriate prenatal or even pre-pregnancy counseling and care, have a plan for management, and be confident that one is with the correct medical provider and health care system. The various issues regarding diagnosis, management, interventions and overall care mandate that the patient finds herself in the most appropriate care setting which provides her the knowledge, understanding and choices necessary to maximize her pregnancy outcome."
Trust your doctor and trust your team. High-risk pregnancies sound scary, but they don't always have terrifying outcomes. Just take a deep breath and try to relax.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.